Eagles face tough test in semifinal vs. Towson

The Spokesman_ReviewDecember 21, 2013 

eastern washington football

Intangibles — and there will be many of them at Roos Field in Cheney on Saturday — are just that.

None of them will make a tackle or throw a key block in Eastern Washington’s Football Championship Subdivision semifinal game against Towson.

As Tigers coach Rob Ambrose said, “That’s for guys with pens and computers.”

It’s also for fans, who are fond of discussing everything from the weather to the 11 a.m kickoff to the Eagles’ hefty playoff experience compared with Towson’s.

And of course, they feel the need to bring up the Eagles’ semifinal loss last year to Sam Houston State — the product, more than anything, of an abysmal start. As if the Eagles wanted to trail at halftime, 35-0.

“It wasn’t a lack of focus,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin recalled. “I think, if anything, we were wanting to press and make plays.”

Against a confident, road-tested Towson team that thrives in adversity, the third-ranked Eagles

(12-2) will have to make plenty of plays to advance to the FCS championship game against either North Dakota State or New Hampshire on Jan. 4.

A few keys for Eastern:

 • Bring enough helmets to the line of scrimmage to slow superb running back, Terrance West.

 • Limit the open-field running opportunities of quarterback Peter Athens.

 • Win the battle on the edge for Eagles running back Quincy Forte.

 • Limit mistakes, or at least stay even in the turnover battle.

West, the nation’s leading rusher (2,305 yards) and scorer (38 touchdowns), is priority No. 1 for Eastern’s defense, which two weeks ago shackled South Dakota State’s Zach Zenner and forced a running team to throw.

“He’s one of the best running backs I’ve seen since I’ve coached at this level,” Baldwin said. “He’s very effective inside, but he can hit home runs.”

West can expect a variety of blitzes from Eastern’s defense, which also should limit the options for Athens, who already has lost top wide receivers Leon Kinnard and Spencer Wilkins to injury.

“He does his job and a little bit more, keeps us motivated doesn’t make any mistakes,” Towson linebacker Monte Gaddis said of Athens.

The acknowledged leader of the Tigers offense, Athens (220-for-344 passing for 17 TDs and 12 interceptions), also is a plausible running threat, and has been sacked just 10 times. For that Athens can thank senior tackle Eric Pike, a first-team All-American.

With West and Athens, the Tigers (12-2) rank third in the nation in third-down conversions (86-for-172). West not only sets up play action, but helps keep opposing offenses off the field.

However, Towson has struggled in the red zone, scoring on only 56 out of 72 chances.

“The stats may not always show that, but he can do some good things,” said Baldwin, a Curtis High graduate. “You have to have your eyes right. You still have to have your eyes right, they’re not a one-person outfit— you can’t get this far by being that way.”

On the other side of the ball, Towson is led by elite defensive end Ryan Delaire, who leads the team with 171/2 tackles for loss and 111/2 sacks. Senior linebackers Telvion Clark (131 tackles) and Gaddis (110) are another reason the Tigers hold opponents to 3.3 yards per rush, or 12th best in the FCS.

It also doesn’t hurt that Towson has two excellent cover corners, including senior Jordan Love, a second-team All-American with excellent range, Baldwin said.

They will be tested by Adams, the most efficient passer in the nation, and also a major running threat.

“They’re extremely talented on offense,” Ambrose said.

Perhaps it will come down to an intangible that won’t be known until kickoff: the weather. Snow on Friday is expected to give way to partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 30s.

And if it snows, as it did all day Friday?

“We’re built for bad weather,” Ambrose said.

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